Losing in the mini state tournament that was the Class B-2 district may be just what Elkhorn South needed.
It’s proved to be a wakeup call for the Storm, who advanced to state for the first time despite losing to Gretna in the first round.
Coach Alex Bahe has been happy with practices since then, saying that his team wasn’t at its best down the stretch.
“I honestly do think getting a wild card has refocused us,” he said.
Three teams — the Storm, Gretna and Ralston — advanced out of that district, which included five Top 10 teams, hence Bahe’s reference to a mini state.
Elkhorn South will play York in the first round Thursday morning at 10:45 at the Pershing Center. Ralston takes on South Sioux City at 9 a.m. Gretna, which Bahe said is playing outstanding basketball right now, faces Waverly at 8:45 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
The fourth-ranked Storm, a veteran team that had reached the district final the past two years, had been aiming for state from the start but then lost three of their last four games. That made for some tense moments as they watched how other districts unfolded. They didn’t get the good news until the final outcome, when Scottsbluff beat McCook.
“It was exciting,” Bahe said. “We feel fortunate that we got in. We feel like we deserve to be down there.”
Elkhorn South will try to exploit the three 6-foot-5 players in its lineup.
Seniors Ben Green, Cal Rutherford and Tony Pete average between eight and nine points a game. Green, the quarterback of the football team, is a versatile threat; Rutherford is the pulse of the team and a relentless rebounder at 6.9 a game; Pete, a three-year starter, averages 3.2 blocks per game.
“We feel we have to get the ball inside to those guys,” Bahe said. “They are good scorers inside and a great rebounding presence.”
There isn’t much drop-off when it comes to the guards.
Six-foot junior Matt Thomas averages 17 points a game while 5-11 point guard J.J. Zumbrennen is averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 assists, while shooting 87 percent from the line.
“He’s kind of our floor leader,” Bahe said. “I really feel I have a coach on the floor with J.J.”
The Storm’s height will come in handy against ninth-ranked York (19-5), which also has a tall lineup, led by 6-3 Ty Danielson, who is averaging 20 points a game.
“The key is containing Danielson,” Bahe said.
Bahe went to state twice with Elkhorn and is thrilled to get the Storm there so quickly.
“We feel like the program is going in the right direction and we certainly have the right group of kids to take the program in that direction,” he said. “It feels good to be in the position to have a shot at that in just the third year.”
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